The rise of Canadian basketball

Robert Sacre
Robert Sacre attempts a free throw in the 2006 BC provincial tournament held at the Agrodome on the PNE grounds in Vancouver. BLAIR SHIER PHOTO

Six years ago, Canadian basketball was put on the map when Victoria, BC native Steve Nash became the first ever Canadian to win the NBA’s MVP award.

Since then, basketball has been on the rise north of the border and there is reason for Canadian basketball fans to be excited about the program’s future.

This summer, Brampton, Ontario’s Tristan Thompson, who played for the University of Texas, became the Canadian selected highest in the NBA’s modern era, drafted fourth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The six-foot-nine, 230-pound forward averaged 13.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his first and only season in the NCAA and could soon become the new face of Canadian basketball.

“The general interest for basketball in Canada is improving,” said executive director of Basketball Alberta Paul Sir.

“Canada is producing elite athletes, and a fourth overall pick in Tristan Thompson is a good indication of that.”

Fellow Canadian and University of Texas, teammate Corey Joseph was also drafted in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft, 29th overall to the San Antonio Spurs.

These two Canadian ballers certainly left their mark at the University of Texas and hope to do so one day in the NBA.

The University of Gonzaga in Spokane, Washington has also heavily recruited Canadian players in recent years.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are off to a strong start in the 2011-2012 season, thanks in large part to the Canadian contingent on this year’s squad.

Guard Kevin Pangos from Ontario along with a pair of seven-footers from BC, Robert Sacre and Kelly Olynyk, have all logged plenty of time this season, helping the Bulldogs to an early 5–1 record.

“What you see with Gonzaga and Texas is a trend,” said Sir. “Schools in the states are starting to take Canadian talent more seriously, and those two schools are leaders in that trend.”

Sacre played high school basketball in North Vancouver, leading his team to a provincial title in his grade 11 season.

Now in his senior year with the Bulldogs, and averaging career highs with 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds this season Sacre is also a team captain.

Despite playing high school ball north of the border, Sacre generated plenty of interest from NCAA division one schools, receiving 42 different offers from across the United States.

“I chose Gonzaga because it was a home environment and it had everything I wanted,” said the seven-foot, 260-pound Sacre.

“It wasn’t a big school where I could get distracted and they always play on prime time, always playing against the best teams.”

The 23 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs will lean on Sacre, Olynyk and Pangos to take them deep into the March Madness tournament this spring.

“We have everything we need to go far this season but we have to take it one step and one game at a time.”

Sacre credits Basketball Canada for improving his skills over the years.  He remains in contact with the Canadian coaching staff but says his main focus is with the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

“I keep in touch with them every year, Basketball Canada is a big part of my development.  I always want to keep in touch with them, I’m really excited for the upcoming Canadian teams.”

Canada is currently ranked 23 by international basketball organization FIBA, a ranking that is expected to increase with the wealth of young talent in the Canadian basketball program.

“I think Canada has the young talent to compete globally in the top 10, no doubt,” said Paul Sir.

According to Sir, there are currently serious discussions to move the Canadian basketball training centre from its current spot in Hamilton, Ontario to the brand new GO Centre in Edmonton, Alberta.

The GO Centre is a 236,000 square-foot recreation facility, making it North America’s largest hardwood floor installation.

The North and South Gyms hold nine full sized basketball courts between them, and the main Competition Gym can seat up to 2,800 people, and will be home to the University of Alberta volleyball and basketball teams.

One of the problems currently facing the Canadian basketball program is a lack of familiarity amongst the players. The top Canadian players are spread out amongst the United States and Canada and rarely get a chance to train together as a team.

Sir feels the Canadian basketball program would flourish if it were relocated to Edmonton with the GO Centre serving as a world class home to Canadian basketball.

Whether the relocation happens or not, one thing is certain; the future looks bright for Canadian basketball.

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